The Las Gallinas (The Chickens) Wildlife Ponds are a great place for wildlife photography. Last year a pair of Long Eared Owls made it their home.
We can meet for lunch at the:
175 Paul Dr
San Rafael, CA 94903
I will be leaving the Raleys Shopping Center (In front of Round Table Pizza) at 6:30am if you want to carpool. This facility is flat, dirt trails with areas to sit and rest. Meet in the main parking area.
This Meetup will be cancelled if it rains.
The Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds are also holding tanks for treated liquid waste. You'll have better luck selling this hike to your friends or family by describing it as an easy stroll along a marsh and past ponds teeming with birds, rather than explaining that you'll be walking on service roads that wind past pools of effluent near a sewage treatment plant. It's not as grim as the it sounds. Not only is there no nasty smell at Las Gallinas (at least there wasn't on my visit), but the sanitary district has created a warm and welcoming environment for recreation and education.
The sewage treatment facility was assembled in 1985. Waste is initially processed at the plant across the street from the trailhead, then the treated sewage is either stored in the adjacent ponds, recycled as irrigation water,or discharged into Miller Creek, which feeds into San Pablo Bay. By reclaiming waste water, drinking water is conserved, and a nice side benefit is the easement permitting use of 3 1/2 miles of trails on the sanitary district's lands.
The flat trails are perfect for jogging, or for easy family strolls. There are picnic tables a short distance from a trailhead, nicely landscaped grounds, and one of the most beautiful public toilets in the bay area. Since there is no fishing permitted, the ponds retain a sense of peace and quiet sometimes lacking around local lakes, ponds, and shorelines.
The logical hike is an out-and-back semi-loop, combining a walk along the marsh to the edge of the property (near Hamilton Field), with a circuit of a wildlife pond. You can extend a hike to the wildlife ponds by beginning back at McInnis Park and walking either on the road, on a trail bordering the golf course (passing an old Nike missile site), or a levee path at the eastern edge of the park.
The section below is something you may want to do on your own.
Start at the parking lot and take the brief connector path to the east. Walk north, initially on pavement, across a bridge where Miller Creek makes its way toward the bay. On the other side of the bridge, the trail splits just before an information signboard. Continue straight.
The wide gravel road (used by district vehicles) skirts the primary wildlife pond, where you might see ducks, geese, and white pelicans. Don't be surprised if you glimpse movement just beneath the water's surface; huge fish (carp, I think) swim in this pond. Signs warn that the water contains waste effluent. Yellow star thistle, dock, and fennel line the trail, with cattails closer to the water. At 0.24 mile, a road veers left, heading back around the pond. Continue straight.
There are nice views west to Big Rock Ridge, south to China Camp, and even further south to Mount Tam. Traffic noise from US 101 is just barely audible, but fades with every step. At 0.53 and 0.66 mile, you'll pass restricted roads heading off to the left. Continue straight.
The trail leaves the ponds behind, and passes a bare field. Some shrubby willows and a few out of place pines line the path on the left, while coyote brush gives way to pickleweed on the right, marsh side of the trail. Curving north, the trail offers views to duck blinds on San Pablo Bay, and all the way to Mount Diablo on a clear day. At 1.07 miles, marked by a small sign, the public trail turns sharply right (the road to the left is restricted). Turn right.
Blackberry brambles sprawl along the left side of the trail. Further west, hayfields are irrigated with wastewater recycled at the sewage treatment plant near the trailhead. The flat trail bends left and continues north. Sharp-eyed hikers should be able to make out the buildings of the former Hamilton Air Force Base to the northwest. Back to the southwest, the blue-roofed Marin Civic Center is visible. Along the trail, you might see salt marsh dodder, a plant that in summer resembles dried clumps of cut grass. At 2.13 miles, the public trail ends at an unsigned junction. A restricted road heads west, and a small path continues north,to a ramshackle structure that my topographical software claims is an old rescue tower. Retrace your steps back to a previously encountered junction at 3.99 miles, with the penultimate wildlife pond road, marked with a small blue "public trail" sign. Turn right.
You'll have the opportunity to observe birds in the ponds on both sides of the trail, and to savor more pretty views of Mount Tam, San Pedro Mountain, and Big Rock Ridge. On my hike, something had caught one of those huge fish and picked half of it clean just off the trail. At 4.17 miles, a restricted road bears right at a signed junction. Turn left, as directed by the public trail sign.
Following the contour of the pond, the trail sweeps to the left, passes the picnic area, and reaches a previously encountered junction at 4.60 miles. On a warm July afternoon a king snake crossed the trail in front of me along this stretch. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 4.62 miles